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There May Be Value Betting Against Jimmie Johnson for the Championship...By Hartley Henderson

With one race left in the Nextel Cup Season, the Championship is Jimmie Johnson's to lose. Sitting with a 63 point lead on Matt Kenseth and a 90 point lead on Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, Johnson needs to only finish 12th to clinch the championship. If he finishes 21st or better he automatically beats Harvick and Hamlin. Johnson has done well at Homestead Raceway in the past, with the exception of the race last year where he crashed and finished 40th, and thus he is clearly in the driver's seat (pardon the pun). So what would compel anyone to suggest there is value betting against him? Simply, as stated earlier - he finished 40th last year. That's not to suggest that he'll have another poor race, but it shows that anything can happen in a single car race.

Most auto racing columnists have conceded the championship to Johnson and claim he can't lose if he stays out of trouble. But unlike with other sports, the driver is not fully in control of his own destiny. In reality, the driver's skill is about 20 percent of the equation when determining how they perform. The other 80 percent of the equation is determined by the car. Johnson is a top tier driver and Chad Knaus is one of the best crew chiefs in the business. But things happen in NASCAR that the driver and crew chief often have no control over. It's one thing to say that he only needs to stay out of trouble, but it's certainly possible that an also ran car could crash into him (even though he didn't cause the accident) or he could run over debris and cut a tire - or he could just have an ill performing car. After all, the cars are just machines and sometimes machines don't function as expected.

In, 1994, the first year of the chase, Kurt Busch looked more or less unbeatable heading into the final race. A decent finish, similar to Johnson this year, guaranteed him the championship. But disaster struck early in that race as he cut a tire and suffered some damage. The rest of the race the crew worked tirelessly to get the car back to shape and they succeeded as Busch beat Johnson by 8 points. For most of that race though, live point standings had Johnson ahead of Busch. In 2002 before the chase, Tony Stewart had what seemed like an insurmountable lead on Mark Martin. Like this year, Tony Stewart was an overwhelming favourite (In Las Vegas he was 1/20 heading into that race), but Stewart's car was terrible and Stewart actually went a lap down. The team had to work diligently to get the car back on the lead lap and win the championship for Stewart, and after the race Stewart claimed it was the hardest and most tiring race he ever ran. As such, there is a possibility that something could happen to Johnson. Johnson will try to drive cautiously, but often caution leads to cautions (again pardon the pun). And if, as expected, Johnson is mid pack when a caution comes out there is no reason the car couldn't get involved in an accident that makes the car undriveable. As well, he could cut down a tire and hit the wall and of course his car could blow an engine, which would immediately eliminate him from the race (a team isn't allowed to change an engine during the race). Jeff Gordon suffered 3 blown engines this year, Brian Vickers had 2 blown engines, as did Kyle Busch. And Johnson had one blown engine himself. All these cars are made in the same shop (Hendrick Motorsports), and as careful as engine builders are, sometimes race car engines just blow up for no apparent reason.

Let's be perfectly honest: Jimmie Johnson shouldn't lose the championship. With the position he is in, he should be taking home the Nextel Cup trophy on Sunday around 5:30 pm ET. But betting is all about value. At last check, Station Casinos in Las Vegas had Jimmie Johnson as the 1/4 favourite and his odds are even lower at offshore sports books that still have odds listed. Matt Kenseth's odds range between 5/1 and 8/1, while Harvick and Hamlin are around 30/1 each. So the question has to be asked: Is there value betting against Johnson at the low odds? Consider this: Matt Kenseth finished 2nd in the race last year, and Jack Roush cars (Kenseth's team) have won this race the past 2 years, and last year the team took home the top 3 spots. Plus, if Jimmie Johnson happens to get into some trouble early in the race, with 3 other Roush cars out there, it isn't inconceivable that the other drivers could make Johnson's day a long one. After the Kentucky Derby, it appeared Edgar Prado was destined to easily win his Preakness ride aboard Barbaro. On paper, the horse appeared unbeatable. But Prado had to rely not only on his own skill as a jockey, but on the horse as well. As we all know Barbaro broke through the gate and later had to be pulled up. When someone relies on something out of their control for their success, a lot of things can happen. Cars are just machines and even a $200,000 Mercedes Benz sometimes breaks down for no reason. The question is, where is the value to win the Nextel Cup championship at this stage? At the current odds it isn't with Jimmie Johnson.

Hartley Henderson

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